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June 30, 2017 1:01 pm

Primetime French TV Show Hosts Frank Discussion on Antisemitism in Wake of Sarah Halimi Murder

avatar by Ben Cohen

French Jewish actor Michel Boujenah discusses the murder of Sarah Halimi on French TV. Photo: Screenshot.

After the widespread public silence surrounding the brutal murder of a Jewish pensioner in Paris by an Islamist who broke into her apartment, an increasingly anguished discussion in the French media is starting to focus on why the case was ignored for several weeks, along with the broader threat of antisemitism in France.

The torture and killing in April of Sarah Halimi — a 66-year-old widow who lived by herself in an apartment in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris — is slowly becoming a political scandal in France. French authorities and the media have been fielding accusations that they played down the shocking violence that caused Halimi’s death so as not to give an electoral advantage to Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front leader who was defeated by centrist Emmanuel Macron in the country’s presidential election the following month.

In the early hours of April 4, Halimi was tortured and then thrown to her death from a third-floor window by her assailant, 27-year-old Kobili Traore — who had a prior record of antisemitic harassment against her and who yelled antisemitic abuse during the ordeal. Traore is currently in hospital awaiting a psychiatric evaluation; Halimi’s relatives fear that Traore will not stand trial for an antisemitic murder if he is declared mentally unfit.

The issue of Traore’s motives was front and center during a recent panel discussion on the popular weekend TV talk show “On n’est pas couché” (“We’re not lying”).

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The main guest was Michel Boujenah, a French Jewish actor and writer, who engaged in a sometimes emotional examination of Halimi’s murder with three other panelists and the show’s presenter, Laurent Ruquier.

On the subject of Traore, Halimi’s killer, Boujenah told the audience: “They said it was a mentally unstable person. But it was a mentally unstable person who chose his victim, who tortured her, insulted her with every antisemitic slur, and threw her out of the window.”

Boujenah, who was born in Tunis, continued: “He was crazy. But he was a crazy antisemite. There is no doubt about this question.”

Another panelist, Yann Moix, said that the silence around Sarah Halimi’s murder was reminiscent of the case of Ilan Halimi, no relation, the 23 year-old kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2006 by an antisemitic gang who set out to find a Jewish victim in the belief that Jews were wealthy and therefore would pay a ransom demand.

Responding, Boujenah reflected, “We are 15 million Jews on this planet. There are a billion and a half Chinese. What did we do? What did we do that is so bad? To be hated in this manner. What did we do? I would like an explanation.”

Boujenah then referred to the conspiracy theories that put Jewish power and influence at the center of the world. “As far as I know, the great captains of industry in France, they are not Jewish,” he said. “Unless they changed their names. Maybe Arnault is called Boutboul, maybe Bouygues is called Belaisch,” he joked, in reference to two common French-Jewish family names, to loud applause from the audience.

Later on, Boujenah observed that while he had come on the show to discuss his forthcoming festival, “I find myself in this situation of the Jew who speaks of antisemitism. But the problem of antisemitism is not the problem of the Jews, it is the problem of the antisemites.”

Challenged by Moix, who argued passionately that Jewish identity and faith comes from within, rather than being determined by outsiders, Boujenah responded, “What I am, I know. What I do not understand is why they want to kill me. That’s all.”

— Additional reporting by Emily Hamilton.

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